56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
jerry i h
- Published on Amazon.com
Please note carefully the sub-title of this book: Modern French Baking and Decorating. French cakes have little in common with American ones. Like its predecessors on pastry and cookies, this baking book on cakes is about the types that you will find in classic, pastry shops in France, and not their American cousins. It is also aimed at the serious amateur pastry chef, not the casual home baker. If you are looking for a book to tell you how to make and decorate a chocolate birthday cake for your children, this is not the book for you.
French cakes are both simple and very complicated; they are also amazing and can be heavenly like nothing else in patisserie that comes in a bewildering array of choices. Simply, a French cake is a cake base cut into layers flavored with syrup, sometimes with a flavoring agent between the layers, a filling and frosting of buttercream (but can also be flavored whipped cream, meringue, etc.), plus many decorative touches. The cake bases used are few in number and not that difficult to make. With simple variations in flavoring and decorations, the cake becomes totally different in taste and appearance. So, once you learn how to make one type of cake, you also know how to make at least a dozen other, totally different cakes. This book is a more or less complete guide for making most of the important, popular varieties of French cakes. I should also note that many of these cakes are ones that Americans will actively dislike. For example, succès brushed with flavored syrup is a French favorite, but is also a sugary, chewy, soggy thing that the average American will probably spit out with the first bite.
The organization is logical and also rather sophisticated. Each chapter starts out with a thorough description of a basic technique, and all the recipes in that chapter are based on that technique. For most recipes, you will also need procedures and recipes in other parts of the book, but the author always gives the page number to go to. The chapters are also arranged from easy ones to the more sophisticated ones; it assumes that you will proceed through the book sequentially, and not skip around. The chapters are: Simple Cakes, Round Sponge Cake Gateaux, Round Nut Meringue Gateaux, Meringues, Rectangular Gateaux, Bavarians (also Charlottes and Mousse Cakes), Logs and Leaves, Filling and Frostings, Finishing Touches, Basic Preparations, and a hundred or so pages of reference information. This is definitely not your mother's cake book (unless she grew up in France).
Sadly, making and decorating French cakes is difficult to do properly, and requires patience and practice. It will probably take you several tries to become successful at any one recipe. The techniques described in this book are very similar to professional ones, and, rightly speaking, are the only way you will have a chance. They have done a good job of describing these professional practices and explaining to the amateur chef how to do them. If you pay attention to what the author says and practice, you will succeed. I do have a few quibbles here and there (potato starch did not seem to improve the pound cake recipes; a flat icing spatula will not lay down an even layer of buttercream inside a cake ring; I find American cake circles to be perfectly acceptable, but have never used or seen a French one), but the information is reliable and of the highest caliber.